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Packing light in the winter

I thought that since it’s getting colder outside it would be nice to share how we manage to pack light on a winter time trip. I actually went of the RS Munich, Salzburg & Vienna tour last December so we could experience the Christmas markets and the Yuletide celebrations in Europe. The temperature was around 32 degrees on most days of the trip so when the wind blew it was chilly!

I actually didn’t take all that much extra and was able to get it in my carry on backpack.
1) I took the usual number of underwear and socks (5), but my socks were all crew length and were made of merino wool.
2) 2 pair of pants plus I wore a pair on the flight over, all pants are made by Clothing Arts for travel and quick drying.
3) 3 Long sleeve shirts (quick drying) and 2 long sleeve merino wool T-shirts
4) A Patagonia Micro-D fleece
5) A down filled ultra light jacket
6) Rain Shell
7) Ski Hat (get one with a tight knit, a lined one is even better)
8) Pair of fleece gloves
9) All the usual toiletry items & electronics.

I was able to layer easily by wearing the wool T-shirt and then a Fleece, followed by the down jacket. If it was raining or extra cold I would put the rain shell over everything and I never got cold. The key to packing was to wear the down jacket, ski hat and fleece gloves on the plane because they take up a lot of space in the bag. I only wore one pair of shoes (Merrill Moab water proof). We had a awesome time on the tour and never felt like we needed more clothes.

Please share any tips you have on traveling in the winter overseas.

Disclaimer: Our trip did not include skiing or hiking in the mountains that would require a more extensive packing.

Posted by
2643 posts

I pack similarly to you but also take a soft wool scarf. I hate wind on my neck and face (masks have fixed this problem for now) so I always take a winter scarf.

Posted by
477 posts

Nicely done. Thanks for starting a relevant topic. Guessing I’m not going anywhere till at least 2022 but I’ll probably lay out all my stuff and touch it, smell it, play with it. You know.

  1. My underwear limit is three. I add a pair of tights starting in fall. Cold weather socks are merino, over the calf and i carry one pair of stretchy waterproof sox from Sealskins. They work or I wouldn’t pack them.
  2. Two pair of Royal Robbins pants and two pair of matching RR shorts. I’ll wear shorts in any weather. at least for a few more years.
  3. I can roll up the sleeves on long sleeve shirts and two light merino sweaters. I have been known to wear them all at once in stupid cold weather.
  4. See 3.
  5. Rescue orange, Eddie Bauer hooded down jacket, said to be “storm proof”. Untested as yet. Squishes to a very small wad but is usually worn in transit.
  6. Never go anywhere without a waterproof shell, also hooded.
  7. I always wear a wide brimmed hat and I pack a balaclava.
  8. Pair of excellent gloves with thin waterproof mittens. I’ve used the overmitts more often than i ever thought i would.
  9. All the other usual stuff, yeah, but my list of personals has gotten shorter with every trip. It all goes in a Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 as carryon with a 30l backpack as a personal item.
Posted by
5414 posts

Patagonia Capilene base layer under my jeans. Lands End fleece. Water proof jacket.

Keen brand Kaci slip ons and Targhee hiking shoes. Both durable and light weight. Smartwool brand socks.

Always a scarf and turtle necks to wear beneath the fleece, slouchie and scarf.

Posted by
1711 posts

I am taking notes for future trips. Now that we are retired, when we can travel again I am looking at maybe going to Norway during the latter part of the winter. The coldest trip we took was to Rome in February. The weather was actually very pleasant.

Posted by
139 posts

I can get overheated so a fleece or microfiber vest is included in winter packing. I can take off the heavier coat if walking on a sunny winter day. Learned about vests years ago when cross country skiing.

Posted by
2365 posts

I don’t usually travel in winter but I did go to Iceland in late September one year. Not winter, but like 40 degrees F, windy, and rainy. Much colder at night and on glaciers, obviously.

It was all about layering. For tops I had thin thermal long sleeve t-shirts, long sleeve half-zip athletic shirts, a lighter zip up hoodie style fleece jacket, and a lightweight hooded rain jacket that was roomy enough to wear the hoodie jacket under it. Combine those 4 tops and I was warm if a little bulky! They all were layerable so I could wear 4 layers, 3, or just a shirt and jacket.

Athletic leggings work well under hiking pants or fleece lined pants for an extra layer.

Posted by
6463 posts

I have rung in the New Year the last 5 in Europe. It is always warmer over there than what we are conditioned to deal with in Chicago. Packing to dress in layers is the way to go. 3 heavy flannel shirts over a thermal undershirt or turtle neck, 3 pairs of corduroy or heavy denim pants is what I bring. I wear a lighter winter coat and a waxed Barbour brand driving hat with ear flaps and one pair of thick soft sole wing tip oxford shoes.

Posted by
198 posts

We have done this many times. We will only fly with a 21" carryon and then a purse for me and a small backpack for my husband. We stick to one pair of shoes, something that will work for everything and is waterproof. He takes a beanie and I take a knit hat and scarf, and thin gloves for both of us. A rain shell is all we need for jackets. When it is really cold, I just wear a thermal long sleeve shirt under whatever top/thin sweater I am wearing and if extremely cold then thermal bottoms too. Smartwool socks are key for our feet as they keep the warmth in and keep our feet from sweating. Pants that can dry overnight work well, but I RARELY do any wash on trips. If something needs to be washed, we find a laundromat or have the hotel do it (if we are staying at one that does).

We have done 3 weeks in London, Scotland and France in February, including during a blizzard in Scotland. All of that with just a carryon. We have taken the same things to Iceland, Denmark and Norway in late October and been fine.

We do laugh that for our winter trips, we could take just one outfit total and rewear it since all of our photos show us in jackets etc, but you don't see what shirts we are wearing. So we look the same in every picture, haha!

Posted by
2548 posts

I pretty much agree with mikliz97. We often travel in the winter. One can still travel light. That being said, the UK and Western Europe seem warmer to me than home. For Sweden I would take my down jacket. Layers, which I generally pack anyway, do the trick. I don't do long underwear. I found a long sleeve T or shirt, a vest or sweater (my favorite was a boiled wool one, which adapted to temps) and an unlined jacket. My H would skip the sweater and wear a jacket with a removable lining. Otherwise, a pair of gloves, a scarf and a hat/earmuffs did the trick. As I'd wear the sweater and jacket in transport, winter really didn't affect my carryon much at all....maybe the scarf and hat would go into the carryon, but did't have to do so. Winter travel is very nice, IMO.

Posted by
9466 posts

For city trips (London, Paris, Rome, Vienna) in winter, I like a below-the-knee length puffy coat so that when I sit outdoors my backside is well-covered. Plus it looks appropriate going to a restaurant in the evening vs. wearing a shorter jacket. Boots are good, but not too clunky or massive. Gortex shoes are helpful because rain-or-shine, you’ll be outdoors a lot. Smart wool socks serve me well year-round.

Posted by
5572 posts

I'm also a base layer (including bottoms) advocate using the thinnest version.

Think layers: https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/layering-basics.html

Base Layer: Moisture Management

As the next-to-skin layer, a base layer’s job is moving perspiration
away from your skin, aka “wicking.” In cool or cold conditions,
wicking long-underwear-style base layers are needed to keep your skin
dry. That’s essential because it helps to keep you from becoming
chilled or worse—hypothermic.

Light base layer clothing easily drys overnight even with hand sink washing and air drying.

Add a light wool neck gaiter/buff to cap and gloves.

Posted by
198 posts

Last winter we were in Germany and Prague and the one pair of shoes (boots) that I took are called Dromedaris. Oh my gosh, the most comfortable things ever! I bought them about 5 years ago the day before we went to Iceland, Denmark and Norway. I took only that pair, yes brand new, and they were amazing. They just fit me really well and are lined inside so are nice and cozy. I have the red pair, which my husband calls my "sassy boots". So for the trip last winter, yes I coordinated my clothing to go with these boots.

Posted by
3360 posts

I'm always looking for good boots and tend toward flat, non-slip lightweight, waterproof ones. But there are many enticing styles on the Dromedaris website.

What style are yours? Do you know how much they weigh?

Posted by
5997 posts

We used Icebreaker merino wool layers above the Arctic Circle ,. They do not take much space. Work very well.

Posted by
3360 posts

Thanks for the response on the Dromedaris and the advice about the intensity of the color. I did bookmark that style, along with several others, in green, brown, red and blue. If they were comfortable, these boots could be the only pair of footwear I'd take on a cold weather trip.

I remain concerned about the heel height, the weight and how waterproof they are, especially with the zippers. Warmth is great, but most of the cold weather trips I've taken have also involved rain, puddles, wet grass and mud. I'll contact them about those concerns.

The diagrams for the boots are a big plus.
The measurements are very useful. If I were to get a pair of these boots, they'd be the most stylish shoes in my closet. 😏

Posted by
331 posts

Thanks for starting this topic — it’s fun to read a packing thread! I am mentally already packing for our (fingers crossed) Christmas market trip next year.

Starting from the bottom up: at home here in Vermont where it’s snowing 7 months a year, I wear Costco crew-length merino trail socks on most days. When it’s super cold (below 10F), I grab my Smartwool PhD medium weight over-the-calf ski socks. I am outside for hours every day, and my feet are never cold with these options as long as I have waterproof footwear. My Teva ankle boots have held up well for this over the years, and I have brought them on many trips.

I like Smartwool tights or silk long johns under my pants as an extra layer when needed. For my actual pants, a little water and wind resistance goes a long way to keeping me warm; many technical pants have this and still look good for walking around. Many choices, but Kuhl is my favorite brand because they fit me :-)

For my top half, I can stay comfortable in any winter weather by combining any or all of: a long sleeved cotton/modal shirt (I like the ones from Lands End), a LS merino shirt, a merino sweater (I love Title Nine’s tunic-length ones to keep my backside warm!), a long puffer jacket (I’m with Laurel on liking a longer length, although I like my coat just above my knees, not below), and a super lightweight, waterproof, trench-length shell. I might also bring a LS silk base layer to give another option; they are almost weightless and add lots of warmth.

And of course, hat, scarf, gloves. I’ve had great results from the Head brand running gloves that Costco has sold the last few years (not sure if they have them this year; I haven’t been since last February!). They are lightweight, but wind and water resistant, and warm.

Posted by
198 posts

Lo--Don't be concerned at all about water. We lived in Portland, OR when I bought these and are now near Seattle, but in the convergence zone so we get even more rain/storms than Seattle itself. I don't even think about the rain with these, I just go. I have done many 10-13 mile days in these while traveling and my feet are happy campers at the end of the day. For me, they are the best!

Posted by
169 posts

For the ladies, if thermal underwear is overkill, ExOfficio makes a great, quick-dry camisole. However, it's best suited for those who are smaller up top, as it doesn't offer a lot of support.

Posted by
593 posts

We usually go to Italy between mid-October and mid-January. Over a capilene tee-shirt I like to wear my cashmere cardigan from Lands End and a down-alternative quilted vest --- too many layers on my arms makes me feel like I'm in a straight-jacket. Boots are too heavy to lug around when not being worn and my feet can't tolerate them anyway, so I take thin stretchy black silicone overshoes that mean I can wear my wide Altra sneakers --- easy to take off the overshoes and put them in a ziploc bag in my purse when not needed. For December trips in the northern half of Italy, I do pack my below-knee-length down coat and haven't been sorry yet.

One thing to remember is that if you spend a lot of time in museums and restaurants like I do, watch out for wearing things like long underwear or heavy socks or wooly tights that you can't take off if the place is over-heated. Also, before entering any......interesting..... toilet (or just a tiny one) in a restaurant or bar, I take off all my winter stuff and leave it with my poor husband. I've had too many......interesting......experiences.

Posted by
1189 posts

I've found in the last few years that a lot of museums in Europe have lockers where you can leave your heavy outerwear while you are enjoying the museum.
So much more comfortable, and no overheating yourself!
The lockers are always big enough for a couple of people to put in all their stuff at once.

Posted by
5429 posts

I wear Costco wool socks all year (except when it's sandals weather) and for really cold travel days (Christmas markets) I put on a second pair. Maybe with leggings under jeans/slacks. Merino wool or cashmere pullovers from thrift stores.

Posted by
339 posts

All good points.

For winter weather or, conditions that will dip below 45F, I make sure to bring at least one if not multiple Merino wool t-shirts. Wool sportswear has been around for nearly 30-years now, and prices have become much more reasonable; brands like Icebreaker, Smartwool and Ibex are great sources for a variety of styles and price-points. A thin long-sleeve and short-sleeve crew-neck t-shirt work really well either alone or, in combination. Wear it with a soft-shell or, insulated jacket, or, layer them up together, you'll be cozy warm, no smell (like synthetics) and look classy enough to not think you're just coming off the trail/mtn.

For socks, I like Smartwool, Darn Tough and Point6, all use Merino wool.

Footwear, there's a number of light insulated casual shoes that don't look like you're going to shovel the driveway, The North Face and Sorel are two brands I've found solid non-snow pack styles.

Posted by
1189 posts

Yes, go to the thrift store and see if they have some Merino wool sweaters.
I got two for $3. each for when I went to Iceland in the winter.
Although we live in Canada, it doesn't get cold enough herein our area to warrant spending $150 on a new one, as I'd never wear it here at home.
They don't weigh much at all.

Posted by
5572 posts

Quality winter garments seem to outlast being in fashion. The three usual reasons for my needing to replace my winter clothing are:

  1. Technical obsolescence. Technical garments with advancing science have gotten better (warmer, drier, lighter and more) as the decades rolled by.

  2. I've outgrown garments. To much of the good life.

  3. Damage. Active wear can be damaged in use or damaged in storage. Synthetic fleece (e.g. Polarguard) is plastic and campfire sparks/embers can melt holes in synthetic fleece. Marion wool is organic and moths can eat holes in your wool garments (Always remember that Merino, cashmere and silk are protein fibers which are like gourmet meals for a moth larva or silverfish. The protein in the fiber is the food source the larva need to grow and develop).

Posted by
3360 posts

I'd love to be able to wear Merino or cashmere, but it makes me itch just to think about it. And yes, I've tried, multiple times. You know what they say about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Surprisingly, I have been able to tolerate Sockwell knee high compression socks that are 32%-34% Merino depending on the style. The other fibers are 32%-34% Rayon, 28%-32% Nylon and 4%-5% Spandex. Maybe the other fibers help to mask the wool or maybe the area from just below my knees down to my toes is less sensitive than from my knees to the top of my head.

So my options for winter travel are limited to cotton, fleece, acrylic, Primaloft and all the other wonder fabrics made largely from polyester and spandex these days. I haven't noticed any of them being smelly, unless I wear them too many times before I wash them. My limit is 3 wearings.

Similar to the OP, I find quick drying, lightweight fabric pants, layered with long underwear a good combination when it's not exceptionally cold. Note that my definition of exceptionally cold may be a higher number than most.

I have traveled when it was quite cold for me. On those trips I realized that I wore only about half of the garments I took, layered them in different combinations and washed them regularly. Lessons learned for my next trip during cold weather.